Virtual Astronomy: The Universe on the Internet
Krumenaker, Larry, Online
If you want to experience virtual reality, try astronomy. It is the most intangible and least experimental science. Astronomers can't touch their subjects of interest or experiment upon them (except recently for small items retrieved or received from space, like meteorites or lunar samples). Our knowledge of the universe comes primarily from the passive reception of photons. When you look at a star at night you are 'measuring' its brightness, position, and color. Professionals, using more sophisticated detectors, in more detail, and over long time periods, gather a lot more data than our eyes alone, and I mean a lot of data. Alter all, it's a big universe out there, but not so big that the Internet can't become its second home. Furthermore, in the future, the Net could house a "virtual observatory" where the terabytes of data gathered on the sky can be combined and observed, not from a cold observatory dome, but from the comfort of one's warm office.
THE ASTRONOMICAL ALEXANDRIA
Astronomy Web sites were among the earliest to be created and gain public recognition. The Electronic Astrophysical Journal may have been the first ejournal, complete with links to other information on the Web, and it may also have been first to be linked from searchable databases. The modern age of astronomy has produced a lot of published data, and some not published, just stored for future usage. Now, much of that data is available on Web sites. These are not the kinds of Web sites you would use to see what's up in the sky or get an answer for your kid's homework. These are where the professionals go.
The major repository is the CDS or Centre des Donnees astronomiques de Strasbourg (http:cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr). The CDS houses a large number of astronomical databases: at last count, 3913 catalogues, with nearly 3,300 available online. The key resource is SIMBAD (Set of Identifications, Measurements, and Bibliography for Astronomical Data), for astronomical objects outside the solar system. An astronomer can search SIMBAD for any of nearly three million objects--stars, nebulae, star clusters, novae, and other objects--and for more than three million citations in the literature.
One of my favorite oddball celestial objects is known as SS 433. It was discovered in the early 1970s because its spectrum (starlight dispersed into its rainbow of colors) had unusually broad emission features …
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Publication information: Article title: Virtual Astronomy: The Universe on the Internet. Contributors: Krumenaker, Larry - Author. Magazine title: Online. Volume: 25. Issue: 5 Publication date: September 2001. Page number: 54. © 2009 Information Today, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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